Low wages, small workforce leaves booming B.C. restaurants without chefs

Many are advocating for the federal government to step in and issue more visas for foreign workers

The restaurant industry may be booming in British Columbia, but a combination of the high cost of living, tight profit margins and a shrinking workforce has made it difficult for kitchens to find enough staff.

Eric Pateman, president of Edible Canada, said the company’s restaurant at Vancouver’s popular tourist destination Granville Island has been short anywhere from two to five chefs at a time for more than two years. That’s meant scaling back the restaurant’s hours or turning down special events, which has been a financial blow, Pateman said.

While the cost of living in Vancouver is a contributing problem, Pateman said a range of issues including long hours, low wages, the gratuity system and rising business costs are factors as well.

“The millennial generation … even the older chefs I’m seeing and the older cooks I’m seeing, are just saying ‘We don’t want to do this anymore. That’s not the career we want. That’s not how hard we want to work.’ It’s certainly not an easy industry,” he said. “I think there needs to be some levelling in the playing field … to get that wage up to a living wage, which at the end of the day entices more people to be in the industry.”

Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president Western Canada with Restaurants Canada, said B.C. may be experiencing a “perfect storm” of challenges in finding chefs but communities across the country are having similar problems.

The number of young people getting into the restaurant business is shrinking while the demand is growing, he said.

A regional “mismatch” of skills and needs exist that leaves some rural communities without enough young people to hire and people aren’t willing to move to fill the vacancies, he said.

“People want to be employed near where they live and these jobs are not high executive paying jobs, it just doesn’t make economic sense to move somebody,” he said.

The cost of running a restaurant has also increased significantly — notably with rising food costs — but menu prices have remained stagnant, leaving little room to raise workers’ wages, he said.

Jamil Mawani of Jambo Grill in Vancouver said the family run business has turned to non-traditional labour markets and temporary foreign workers to fill the gaps in the kitchen.

While the restaurant business tends to attract younger staff, he said they’ve looked to older workers with experience cooking Indian and African inspired cuisine to work as chefs in their kitchen.

They do hire plenty of younger staff too, Mawani added, to create a balance of energy and skill.

In an industry with a high turnover, Mawani said they’ve managed to hang on to a few long-term employees by improving wages and offering flexible hours.

A perk of having the family involved in the business is the owners can “thrown on an apron” when there have been prolonged vacancies, he said.

Many are advocating for the federal government to step in and issue more visas for foreign workers to help fill the gaps.

Darren Clay, executive culinary chef instructor at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, said international students typically seek visas to stay and work after completing their program, but in the past year those visas don’t appear to be getting approved.

“(It’s) a little bit boggling for me because we have such a shortage of workers and these are all well-trained people who work and want to stay here to help out this industry and they are being sent home after their studies,” Clay said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement all international students can apply for the post-graduation work permit program and can even qualify for permanent residency through an express program. The programs do not address specific labour shortages and industry-based or occupational data is not collected, it said.

The department said businesses can apply to hire workers through the temporary foreign workers program if they can demonstrate they’ve been unable to hire Canadians or permanent residents.

But Pateman said the process of requesting a foreign worker for every vacant position is onerous and the government could make it easier for small businesses to meet their labour demands.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia incumbent MP responds to Trudeau brownface scandal

Stetski proud of NDP leader Singh’s reaction, which focused on people not power

Liberals’ Kootenay-Columbia candidate stands by Trudeau despite scandal

Robin Goldsbury says the prime minister’s racist photo is a learning opportunity

Canal Flats pavilion gets a financial boost

Trust provides over $1.9 million for 12 community projects

Windermere carnival this Sunday

Fundraiser event features bouncy castles, games, reptile room, laser tag, food and fun

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

One-in-five British Columbians think they’ll win big while gambling: study

Roughly 58 per cent of British Columbians bought at least one lottery ticket in past year

Takaya, B.C.’s infamous lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

Oak Bay father’s testimony at murder trial like plot of ‘bad low-budget movie:’ Crown

Crown alleged Andrew Berry’s ‘entire story of Christmas Day is a lie’

B.C. truck drivers to face higher fines for not using winter tire chains

As of Oct. 1, not using chains on the highway when required could net you a $598 ticket

Singh campaigns in Toronto, May in Winnipeg, as Liberal and Tory leaders pause

All parties expected to be back on the campaign trail Sunday

Possible Canadian cases of vaping illnesses being investigated: health officer

‘I think that will be really important to address the overall trend of youth vaping’

Most Read